Here we go: the third time around for this annual list of Rob’s Ruling Comics. Once again these are presented in no particular order and as always my list like all lists is highly subjective and could change/alter next week, in the next hour, or next minute. Nothing of mine was eligible of course but one book does feature a teeny little contribution from me (the book would have made the list w/o me in it anyway, so there – problem solved). Also, some of my friends are on this list, yup, but that’s a given – we live in a small insular alt-comics subculture and some friendships begin out of admiration, sometimes mutual admiration. Anyway, 2013 was another fine year for mini comics and self-publishers and as usual I had a really hard time keeping up with it all. But I tried. My strict criteria and no wavering this time: Everything on here had to have been published in 2013, and my cutoff date for inclusion on the list was mid-November, 2013 (when I began to finalize everything). Onward.
Young Safari Guide – Jesse Jacobs
This creepy short story pairs beautifully with Jacobs’ excellent graphic novel By This You Shall Know Him (2012, Koyama Press). Once again his broad subject is the creation of life and the often-brutal actions that life must take to sustain itself (Survival of the Fittest = not just a phrase but a primal fact of existence). Jesse Jacobs’ work is thoughtful and fascinating. Why do we not hear more about him is my question.
LovF – Jesse Reklaw
In summer 2012, Jesse Reklaw was “a homeless crazy person” (his words) due to problems with his medications for bipolar disorder, and LovF is his sketchbook diary of that time. Complex in design, saturated with acidic splotches of color, it is a disturbing, fascinating document, and Reklaw is a tremendously talented cartoonist - check out also his very fine new graphic novel Couch Tag (Fantagraphics).
Milkyboots #14 – Virginia Paine
There’s a whole genre of zine called the perzine, which means Personal zine. This issue of Virginia Paine’s Milkyboots (to date the first and only one I’ve read) is a perzine in comics form, mainly focusing Paine’s painful recent breakup and all the varying tangled emotions that must be sorted through and processed. It’s alternately raw and funny, and otherwise just completely engaging and relatable.
Training – Josh Simmons
I read this as a nightmarish allegory of the harsh, dehumanizing demands of Being A Man in our culture - even if that’s off the mark I’ll not soon forget its chilling final line: “It is going to hurt and hurt and hurt.”
Hungry Bottom Comics : 2 Fags 2 Furious – Eric Kostiuk Williams
Eric K. Williams is unstoppable. I’ll just point you to my original review here.
Every/Body – Edited by Greer Lawson
Yeah ok, I’m in this little anthology but only for like, one measly page in an 88-page book so let’s not harp on that too much, ok? Minneapolis-based Editor Greer Lawson asked a bunch of very fine younger cartoonists as well as some old guys like me for comics discussing body, gender, and sexuality, and the ways we attempt to define ourselves under these parameters. We don’t get enough thoughtful, probing, relatable-to-everyone comics collections like this - it could have been twice as long as far as I’m concerned.
Viewotron #2 – Sam Sharpe
This issue: “Mom”: a superbly rendered, wrenching autobiographical tale concerning familial bonds sorely tested by mental illness. Sam Sharpe is a real talent to watch, looking forward to what he does next.
Sequential Vacation 2 – Sar Shahar
One of the most striking minis I’ve seen this year. Spookily evocative, and simultaneously detached and sexy in a Kubrickian sort of way.
Not a Horse Girl – Marian Runk
Marian Runk hooked up with Oily Comics for this super charming little comic (subtitled “Acoustic Episodes”) detailing the various aspects of her relationship to music and music making. This is Runk’s third year on my list - what can I say, I’m her biggest fan.
Driftwood City – Jason Martin
A nicely produced paperback collection of Jason Martin’s favorite comics from his zine Laterborn. Jason is a thoughtful and incisive writer – check out especially the stories “Who are You?” and “Prayer for Lucy,” but check it all out.
Beach Girls – Box Brown
My favorite of the Retrofit releases this year. Beach Girls is a fine, thoughtful character study of lost twentysomethings searching for meaning in a beach town milieu that discourages such thinking. It’s all drawn in Box Brown’s inimitable, irresistibly minimalistic/geometric style.
What’s New, Pussycat? – MariNaomi
This may well be the best short story Mari has drawn yet. Original review here.
Fear of Flowers – Jason Viola
Jason Viola, creator of one of my favorite minis of 2009 (Sunward) offers this 32-page meditation on the life cycles of three plants: the sunflower, the kadupul, and the orchid. One of the chapters even has a sort of surprise ending. I was so impressed with this beautiful mini that I’ve given it to few people as a gift.
Gnomes - Sam Gaskin
Delightfully silly, spontaneously drawn comics all about the title creatures drinking, capturing trolls, and getting into tickle fights, among other worthwhile shenanigans. A scant 8 pages long, this still rates for me as one of the best minis ever (no seriously). Has a 2012 © date but was released in 2013 by Oily Comics.
I’m a Horse, Bitch – Lauren Barnett
Like Gnomes, this is a mere slip of a comic, featuring 16 pages of a horse informing us of the many ways in which he is totally fucking awesome, with the underlying implication that you are so totally not. A golden premise, perfectly and hilariously executed. Read it, bitch.
Hawaii 1997 – Sam Alden
What can I say, believe the hype about Sam Alden. This wispy B&W sense memory is gorgeously, evocatively rendered.
Zebadiah – Asher Z. Craw
Strange and magical and one of a kind, Zebadiah is like a folk ballad in comics form. It’s rare to see a debut this unique, intelligent and thoroughly unpredictable. Two issues out thus far and anxiously awaiting the third. Original review here.
Runaway Dog – Emelie Östergren
Weird and wonderful, plus it stars a dog, so win win win.
Screentests – Annie Mok
Cartoonist Annie Mok used to be cartoonist Ed Choy. Here she presents a pair of powerful stories, “Pictures of Candy Darling” and “Body Language,” which explore gender and identity, abuse, celebrity, and ultimately, self-actualization and self-acceptance.
Stethoscope Microphone – Whit Taylor
A tell-all about The Doctors, the greatest fictional funk band of all time, this is the best VH1 Behind The Music episode that you never saw. I laughed out loud several times.
10 HONORABLE MENTIONS
Sleepy Details – Sophie Yanow: Simple drawings, complex emotions.
Powdered Milk #11- Keiler Roberts: parenthood and domestic life smartly dissected
New Jobs - Dash Shaw: From the turbulent, restless mind of Dash Shaw, so you’ll want to read it twice (at least)
Hideous Fiesta – Heta Bilaletin: more full color mini-magic from kuš Comics
Stonewall: Mark #1 – Sasha Steinberg: History made groovy
Terror, Terror, Terror – Max Mose: Beware the Terror Maggots!
Second Banana – Tessa Brunton: Make this a series, Tessa
Runx Tales #3 – Matt Runkle: I read a Jincy Willet novel after I read Runkle’s cartoon profile of her in this issue and really glad I did
Weeknight Casserole #2 – Kelly Froh: fun collection of B-sides
Alarm Clock – Will Dinski: Pure cartooning craft
Best Reprint collection: The Collected Deep Girl by Ariel Bordeaux. The 90’s live again, thanks Robyn Chapman’s Paper Rocket micropress, not to mention Ariel herself, duh.
Debut mini of the year: Asher Z Craw’s Zebadiah (see above). Craw’s story floats out into the ether while managing to keep both feet on the ground.
Favorite minicomic series: The Plot by Neil Brideau (3 issues out thus far). A smart, entertaining fantasy tale, rich in subtext(s).
Favorite Subscription: Oily Comics. It’s like getting a brand new anthology in Five Easy Pieces every month: Lou, Real Rap, TEOTFW, Jessica Campbell, Andy Burkholder, Dan Zettwoch, Noise, Blood Visions, Dumpling King, Dane Martin, Scott Longo, Teen Creeps, etc., etc. - the delights are many and extremely varied.
Teach Your Children Well: Ms. Bean’s Art Class #1 by Cara Bean and Mr. Wolf #2 by Aron Nels Steinke. Both Ms. Bean and Mr. Steinke draw warm and funny and empathic comics about the experience of teaching high school (Bean) and elementary school (Steinke). Give both to the teachers in your life.
Favorite Not-Really-Comics-But-Close-Enuff: My Life in 26 Letters: an Abecedarian Memoir by Justin Hall: Justin’s life in short Abecedarian (look it up) bursts of prose with illustrations - often X-rated, always beguiling.
Favorite graphic novel of 2013: Tomorrow is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life by Ulli Lust (Fantagraphics). A tour de force travelogue, absorbing Bildungsroman, feminist statement, and a new classic, says I. Read my original review on tcj here.
Another Favorite graphic novel because you know, dogs!: Good Dog by Graham Chaffee.
Prettiest graphic novel: Journal by Julie Delporte. The colors! They glow.
Most Underrated: Tom Kaczynski’s Beta-Testing the Apocalypse. Like Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Are You My Mother? This collection of stories is so stuffed with ideas I finished it immediately looking forward to reading it again.
Favorite Anthology: A tie: s! #14 (Sports issue) from kuš Comics and Treasury of Mini Comics Volume One, Edited by Michael Dowers (Fantagraphics). The adorable mini size of each book is well nigh irresistible to me and the comics inside are all over the map but somehow all of a piece, just the way I likes it.
(Read 2012’s Top 20 List Here)